Writing and Communicating with an Acquired or Traumatic Brain Injury

By Gwyneth Boyer

Let me preface this blog by saying that I do have an acquired brain injury (ABI), and I know that every ABI or traumatic brain injury (TBI) acts differently depending on where and how the injury occurred in the brain. That being said, I am writing this blog from my own experience. I have provided links to other resources for those who have an ABI/TBI or want to know more information about ABI/TBI.

Acquired or traumatic brain injuries occur when a medical or physical trauma causes damage to the brain (NINDS, 2011). At 16, I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma which metastasized to my brain. The chemotherapy and radiation treatments from this cancer caused residual negative effects to my brain and body. Fortunately, I have been declared cured of the cancer after being in remission for 10+ years.

My injury was to my left-temporal lobe and has affected my short term memory; speech; filtering ability of outside noises and visual distractions; and overall information processing speed. That means that my intelligence has not been diminished, but it does take me longer to find the words I want to say. I can actually type faster than I can speak at times. (That is, if I’m not interrupted by extraneous noise, such as my dogs barking at a passing squirrel.)

Mental exhaustion is also a huge factor to work around when completing papers, interacting in classrooms, or helping students. My neuropsychologist said that my brain has to essentially work at 150% in order to perform at the level of someone without a brain injury. However, she also noted that the best thing that anyone can do with a brain injury is to be in higher education in order to challenge their brain. I would liken this process to exercising your body. When you walk, or run, your bones breakdown slightly in order to re-build the bone with stronger matter. Exhausting my brain with papers, reading, and other mental acuity exercises helps my brain re-build some of the lost connections that were literally burned away by radiation.

How then does ABI/TBI translate to the world of academia? Generally, individuals with ABI/TBI may have issues with different aspects of the learning process. My personal symptoms can be common in many ABI/TBI survivors along with other severe cognitive or physical disabilities. In an academic setting someone with an ABI/TBI may have difficulties with class discussions, tests, and possibly with the process of writing. With these difficulties it is easier for someone with an ABI/TBI to become frustrated, anxious, or overwhelmed by situations that may not faze someone without a brain injury. The person with an ABI/TBI may also have more physiological responses that occur when working in the classroom. For example, I have increased anxiety when speaking in class.

At this point you may be asking yourself: how could the Writing and Communication Center help someone with an ABI/TBI? While we can’t physically heal your brain (although we wish we could) we can help you with any part of the writing and communicating process. This includes areas that may be particularly useful for someone with an ABI/TBI, such as: close reading, note taking, brainstorming, and practicing presentations. Overall, you should know that we are here for you, and will find a way to work with you, while taking into consideration any difficulties you have with the writing and communicating process. All you have to do is make an appointment.

 Image courtesy of www.Brainline.org


ABI/TBI Resources:

The Brain Injury Recovery Network. (2003). The brain injury recovery network. Retrieved from http://www.tbirecovery.org/?gclid=COH5iuDYy60CFQR5hwodjDS0gg

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2011). Injury and prevention control: traumatic brain injury. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/

National Aphasia Association. (2009). Aphasia frequently asked questions. Retrieved from http://www.aphasia.org/Aphasia%20Facts/aphasia_faq.html

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). (2011). NINDS traumatic brain injury information page. Retrieved from http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/tbi/tbi.htm

Speech Language Therapy Information (2013). Aphasia. Retrieved from                http://www.sltinfo.com/aphasia.html



  1. WOW, where where you and this helpful information 13 years ago when I acquired my brain injury and continued for the next 5 years completing my Bachelor’s Degree. This information and insight is uplifting and encouraging that I will be able to continue to grow and learn how to compensate and adapt to the challenges in my future. Thank you for the willingness to share and encouragement to continue in opening other doors to life.

  2. Everything you’ve dexcribed due to the ABI/TBI is almost exactly as I have experienced, though to a lesser degree, since I had the craniotomy to remove a tumor from my right frontal lobe. Being a writer and author I still challenge myself and continue to write but it is more difficult. I am inspired by your courage and the progress you’ve made. Of course, you understand, I am Dad and I am biased. Still, I am so proud to see you helping others and using your experiences to be a better person.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s